Taranis and Mantis UAVs Move Forward Towards Active Service

Farnborough Air Show » 2012
July 8, 2012, 12:40 AM

Visitors to the BAE Systems pavilion here at Farnborough are being greeted by a model of a UCAV (unmanned combat air vehicle) representing a notional shape that could one day be a joint Anglo-French design. The UCAV model reflects the UK group’s refocusing of its show presence on “air” products, and the hugely important part unmanned systems are expected to play in the company’s future.

“What we’re trying to develop here is a product range that encapsulates the future of British aviation,” said Tom Fillingham, the company’s director of future combat air systems. “We need to satisfy a range of requirements from various customers.”

Two years ago BAE Systems unveiled its Taranis low-observable UCAV technology demonstrator, and a year later the company outlined its plans to jointly develop with Dassault the Telemos MALE (medium altitude, long-endurance) air vehicle based on the BAE Systems Mantis demonstrator. Both programs are making significant progress.

Taranis and FCAS

Taranis began life as a UK-only technology demonstrator, with BAE Systems heading a joint MoD/industry team. Now painted grey with low-visibility RAF roundels, the single air vehicle (serial numbered ZZ250) is in a secure facility at BAE Systems’ Warton plant in northwest England while it undergoes a thorough test and development phase leading to a first flight scheduled for early next year. Rolls-Royce, which supplies the aircraft’s Adour 951 engine, is undertaking integration tests of the entire intake/engine/exhaust system. The engine is installed, but has not yet been started.

One crucial campaign that has been successfully conducted is pole testing of the vehicle’s radar cross section, undertaken at Warton’s radar cross section range. According to Fillingham, the results were “very promising,” and led to the UK Ministry of Defence asking for further RCS tests to corroborate the initial results.

While Taranis is a UK-only program, a UCAV is covered by the Anglo-French strategic defense agreement, and results from tests will feed into a joint program for what is now being termed FCAS (future combat air system). Dassault also has a UCAV demonstrator in the shape of the Neuron, which has been developed jointly with a number of other European nations.

BAE Systems and Dassault are hopeful of progressing FCAS through the receipt of an 18-month demonstrator preparation phase program (DPPP) contract, which could be awarded this summer–possibly this week. A successful DPPP could lead to a design and development contract for FCAS.

Mantis and Telemos

BAE Systems and Dassault are also hopeful of being awarded an 18-month technology maturation and risk-reduction study (TMRS) award for the Telemos MALE deep and persistent ISTAR program. Again, the contract could be signed and announced around the time of the Farnborough show. The contract would be worth around £15 million to BAE Systems and its key suppliers.

Telemos is to be based on the Mantis concept, which flew in technology demonstrator form in October 2009. A Telemos vehicle is far from being defined, and even details such as whether it will have jet or turboprop engines have not been decided. The Mantis demonstrator was designed so that either type of powerplant could be installed. A successful TMRS phase could lead to a design and development contract for the Telemos vehicle, which could enter service around 2020. A framework for intended workshare breakdown will be part of the TMRS process.

In the meantime, BAE Systems is reviving the Mantis with its own money, having assigned up to approximately $7.8 million to the project during this year. The demonstrator undertook a successful flight test campaign in Australia before being mothballed. The company has decided to dust it down for renewed tests to support development of new software, and as part of a longer term commitment to the Telemos MALE program, although it will not be flown as part of the TMRS contract. “We wanted to carry on our own activities internally,” explained Fillingham.

Currently, the Mantis air vehicle is being checked over so that it can fly again. Taxi trials are due before the year-end, with a first flight expected in early 2013. Whereas the first test campaign was conducted at Woomera in Australia, BAE Systems is to start flying the Mantis again in UK airspace, and is currently negotiating with the MoD over the use of one of three or four possible locations.

Mantis will take up the baton of advanced unmanned systems testing from the Herti. BAE Systems took the decision earlier this year to “quarantine” the Herti program and migrate the technology to the Mantis. Key technologies that will be explored and developed are systems for sense-and-avoid, weather-avoid and emergency landing functions.

Many of these systems are also being developed using the company’s Jetstream twin turboprop surrogate UAV testbed. This former regional airliner is part of the ASTRAEA (autonomous systems technology related airborne evaluation and assessment) program involving numerous UK industry players. Later this summer the Jetstream will begin a series of more than 20 flights demonstrating its capabilities while operating in shared airspace. BAE Systems is currently testing the system in preparation for this campaign, and is using a Piper Seminole twin as a “target” aircraft to test the Jetstream’s sense-and-avoid technology.

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Keith Hancock
on January 14, 2013 - 10:12pm

Article states TARANIS test flights conducted at Woomera Range in South Australia.
Has the Australian DOD expressed any interest in this system?
maybe 5+ years back DOD expressed firm interest in Global Hawk after a test flight from the US to RAAF Edinburgh (near BAE facility at Salisbury) non stop.
Can BAE compete with Global Hawk or any other US models (Reaper) in a combat role?

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Lizzie
on January 22, 2013 - 10:16pm

Back in the late 80's in Victoria, Australia late one night I saw close up something like this but it was manned ... by 2 men, one flying it, and one in the back seat playing with a control panel of some sort and wearing headphones. They were in effect trespassing, given they were flying at tree height over my horse paddocks scaring my livestock and me for that matter. They had some sort of spotlight they were scanning the paddocks with .... having a "play" with their new "toy" no doubt. Anyway, it was a totally silent matte black or dark grey triangular shape plane, with one small red light in a metal cage flashing on the underneath of the left wing - no numbers or identifying marks. Most planes that I've seen have a red light on one wing and a green one on the other so I wondered if it was legal to fly like this. Its outer shell was like a patchwork of panels with bolts on them. The front window looked like a flat triangle at first, but as it got closer to me I became aware that it was more pointed and molded with a tint of some sort. I could see the entire body of the pilot through the window and not just his head and shoulders as you would get with a normal plane. He had breathing equipment of some kind (that wasn't being used) so I imagine this thing could go to high altitudes. He wasn't in uniform, just cargo shorts and singlet. I was amazed at how slow it was flying, a walking pace ... a regular plane could not do this, it would fall from the sky. An interior light came on and I became aware of the co-pilot sitting behind the pilot. It was able to turn virtually on the spot like a helicopter and I'm sure you could probably just set it down on the ground to land it ... wow, who needs a runway! I stood under it for some time watching it and walking along with it and couldn't feel any drafts or static and couldn't resist jumping the fence and following it on foot till it went out of sight. I thought the engines must have been on top of it, but as it flew away there was only like a vapour coming from vents on the top of it ... it just looked like a big black bat really. If Batman had a plane, this would be it. I could drive it ... it goes so slow what could go wrong? I want a silver one when they're available to us.

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